Dairy Farmers of Manitoba will add producer-only sessions to its spring and fall district meetings.
The decision was made at the organization’s annual general meeting in Winnipeg last week, following a resolution put forward by Brent Oswald and Thomas Reutter.
“We have a multimillion dollar industry where we are relying on nine people to run it … and they have 287 milk producers behind them that would gladly help and support them, so it would just be nice to have more opportunities,” said Oswald.
He also added that privacy is a necessary component of any successful business.
“My dad grew up saying that The Bay never told the Eaton’s their business. And RBC or any of these other large businesses that have a board of directors meeting or a meeting of the shareholders, there isn’t anyone else present in the room either,” said Oswald. “I don’t know why we would want to conduct business any way different when it is critical matters pertaining to our industry.”
The move comes at the same time the dairy industry is pushing for greater transparency with consumers, through programs like ProAction and new marketing strategies. But Dairy Farmers chairman David Wiens said the issue is one of balance going forward.
“I think that communication between producers and the board is valuable, very valuable, I agree with the sentiment,” Wiens said. “And obviously there are things that we can’t develop policy around or situations we can’t deal with in a open way without compromising our ability to negotiate or reach agreements with other stakeholders, whether they are other provinces or processors.”
He also said there is merit in giving producers the opportunity to express concerns and ask questions of the board in privacy, where farmers might feel more comfortable speaking openly.
Oswald noted that producers would be more open in their discussions if they knew media wouldn’t be reporting on what they said, but added he didn’t feel the move would impact the organization’s overall transparency.
“Absolutely not, because we won’t hide the decisions made, we just want to discuss the road we take to get to those decisions in private so that nothing is left sort of unturned or un-discussed because somebody feels uncomfortable,” he said.
But Wiens also said that while there will be closed sessions during spring and fall meetings, there will also continue to be open sessions.
“It would not be very positive if, let’s say, it all became a closed-door session,” said Wiens. “Because that would send exactly the wrong signals to the industry, there is nothing to hide so we want our stakeholders to be there, government representatives to be there and we want the public to be able to be a part of our meetings, to be able to drop in for the day and see how it works and listen to what is going on.”
A second resolution brought forward by Oswald proposed the addition of a second closed door session at the group’s annual general meeting, but the resolution was defeated after logistical challenges and concerns about redundancy were raised.